Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

Pasta al Limone (Lemon Pasta)

A lemon-cream sauce that’s uncomplicated and supremely comforting.

Bon Appétit

Read when you’ve got time to spare.

Pasta al Limone

Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

Pasta al limone is more than the sum of its parts. The Italian lemon sauce is luscious and amply cheesy but bright thanks to fresh citrus. Like in cacio e pepe and fettuccine Alfredo, the key to this weeknight pasta dinner is not an abundance of ingredients (there are only five) or a long slow simmer (it takes just 15 minutes start to finish). Instead, this classic lemon pasta recipe relies on the power of emulsion—and on your patience.

First, you’ll infuse the cream with lemon flavor using the zest, then whisk in cold butter, one tablespoon at a time, until each addition is fully incorporated. You’ll follow suit with the Parmesan cheese: Allow each handful to become one with the creamy lemon pasta sauce before adding the next. Plop in the cheese all at once and you’re likely to end up with a glob that refuses to play nicely with the tangle of spaghetti (or linguine if preferred). A pour of starchy pasta water gives the sauce body, but remember that you’ll add fresh lemon juice (which will loosen the sauce further) to the pot after it comes off the heat. Adding it too soon can cause the sauce to break and curdle, not to mention dull the lemon’s acidity. If you need more guidance, check out this video.

Looking for a side dish? This lemony pasta dish pairs well with a big green salad and a loaf of garlic bread or a mix of fresh and pickled vegetables via our Giardiniera Antipasto Platter.

What you’ll need

  • Vegetable Peeler

  • Microplane

  • Dutch Oven

  • Whisk


4 servings

  • 1 lemon
  • 12 oz. spaghetti or other long pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 oz. finely grated Parmesan (about ¾ cup)
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Step 1

Using a vegetable peeler, remove two 2"-long strips of zest from 1 lemon. Thinly slice each strip lengthwise into thin strands; set aside for serving. Finely grate remaining lemon zest into a large pot (like a Dutch oven). Cut zested lemon in half and squeeze out enough fresh lemon juice to yield 2 Tbsp. into a small bowl; set aside.

Step 2

Cook 12 oz. spaghetti or other long pasta in another large pot of boiling heavily salted water according to package directions, stirring occasionally, until very al dente (pasta will finish cooking in the sauce).

Step 3

Meanwhile, add ¾ cup heavy cream to pot with lemon zest and cook over medium heat, whisking often, until liquid is just beginning to simmer, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk in 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until melted and sauce is creamy and emulsified. Remove from heat.

Step 4

Just before pasta is al dente, scoop out 1½ cups pasta cooking liquid. Add ¾ cup pasta cooking liquid to cream sauce and return to medium heat. Using tongs, transfer spaghetti to pot with sauce (it’s okay if a little water comes along with it). Cook pasta, tossing often and adding 3 oz. finely grated Parmesan (about ¾ cup) little by little, until cheese is melted and sauce is creamy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in reserved lemon juice. If sauce looks tight, add 1–2 Tbsp. more pasta cooking liquid (cream sauces tighten up very quickly as they cool, so it’s better to lean on the saucier side of things). Season with more salt, if needed.

Step 5

Divide pasta among bowls. Season with freshly ground black pepper, then garnish with reserved lemon zest strips.


Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for Bon Appétit

This post originally appeared on Bon Appétit and was published January 22, 2024. This article is republished here with permission.

Two recipe icons. One delicious offer. Get unlimited access to recipes across both Bon Appétit and Epicurious.